Chairman of the OAS Inter-American Committee on Tourism (CITUR) and Jamaica’s Minister of Tourism, Hon. Edmund Bartlett, sees the need for an effective regional airline to boost tourism in the Caribbean.
His call came at Wednesday’s opening session of the Organisation of American States (OAS) High-Level Policy Forum to discuss ways to safeguard the region’s tourism sector from disruptions, including a looming recession. It is being held at the Holiday Inn July 20 and 21, 2022, with nearly 200 participants on location and virtually.
The two-day event is being held under the theme: Building the Resilience of Small Tourism Enterprises (STE) in the Caribbean to Disasters with expectations that it will provide tools for managing disruptions, including those of the climatic and economic type.
Organized in collaboration with the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA), the forum of Ministers of Tourism, Permanent Secretaries and other high-ranking policymakers is giving priority attention to the needs of small tourism enterprises.
Minister Bartlett said the forum had paved the way for a serious discussion on the future of tourism as a real driver of economic development in the Caribbean and as an instrument for inclusive growth.
“It has also paved the way for a reimagining of the tourism protocols and re-establishment of the key national imperatives of enabling freedom of movement within the Caribbean area,” he said.
The CITUR Chairman said, “at the heart of the freedom of movement is a transportation policy that would allow for regional carriers to develop and for movement also in terms of border controls.”
In this regard he said a regional visa regime was being explored, adding, “if we are to build Caribbean tourism, recognizing that as individual states we’re too small to grow and to benefit from the recovery of tourism as it now stands but together as a region we can grow and we can benefit in many ways.” These included multi-destination tourism in which a visa regime is a must and a common airspace.
“Rationalize the airspace so that airlines flying into the Caribbean pay one fee and it allows them to travel through the airspaces of the other countries,” he said. Also, there would be pre-clearing arrangements allowing for visitors coming into the region and have tourism visas to clear customs in Jamaica and enjoy domestic status in the other islands.
Mr. Bartlett said this would bring more airlines into the space as turnaround time would be significantly reduced. Another advantage would be multiple experiences for visitors from long haul destinations. He said the Caribbean airline would facilitate having multi-destinations with visitors booking one package at one price from which all would benefit.
Asserting that tourism has been the mainstay of the Caribbean economic development in the last 40 years, Minister Bartlett said more than 90 percent were small, medium and micro enterprises, and 80 percent globally. With those statistics, he wondered why it had taken so long to be making this focus on building the capacity of these enterprises to pivot and recover swiftly and thrive after disruptions.
He identified three key factors that he said small and medium tourism enterprises had to come to grips with, namely building capacity for knowledge through training and development, financing that allowed for small enterprises to scale up in quality and consistency, and effective marketing.
Also, faced with the unprecedented impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, he said small enterprises had to rebuild to be able to identify and forecast disruptions, to mitigate against them, to be able to manage them and to recover as quickly as possible.
The policy forum also has on its agenda discussions on issues such as the barriers and challenges facing small tourism enterprises, crisis communication, business continuity planning tools and the establishment of Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT).